Archive for June, 2012

Dear Danielle: How Can My Clients and I Transfer Transcription Files?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and one of my main specialties is transcription.  I have thus far been transcribing for two companies where I sign onto their secure server to obtain my digital recordings, load them onto my desktop, and then proceed to transcribe and then email the completed product back to them. Since I am setting out on my own, I am wondering what some options are for obtaining the digital recordings from other clients, if they do not have a server set up where they load their recordings.  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? —LB

I think DropBox may work quite well for this. I tell ya, I have found DropBox to just be so completley indispensible in my work with clients. It’s easy to install and simple to understand, and I find new ways to use it all the time. And, not that I’m the advocate for everything being free (quite the opposite!), but it does just happen to be free so there’s that, too, lol.

What you could do is set up a shared folder for each client and then create an IN folder for incoming transcriptions and an OUT folder for completed transcriptions.

As I’m sure you’re aware, sound files can be quite large which makes them not well-suited for email delivery. Email is not exactly secure either if you are dealing with confidential information.

Plus, if you have frequent large attachments like that going in and out on a regular basis, your ISP might get testy. Sure, you could zip them up, but that’s an extra step at both ends. And anytime you can eliminate extra steps, it sure makes things a lot more convenient.

So here again, a secure cloud storage solution like DropBox where you can transfer and share large files such as this is a perfect solution.

For other transcription tools, be sure to also check out the ACA Free Software Directory. Of particular interest, you will find ExpressScribe which is another brilliant tool that is so indispensible, it’s a wonder they don’t charge for it. But they don’t, and it’s free.

This isn’t particularly transcription related, but another tool I use extensively in my work with clients is Airset, which also happens to be free.

This service is what is known as a shared collaborative virtual office where you can set up a private/separate account for each client you work with so that you have a central location in which you both share documents, keep track of work requests and projects, share calendaring and many other features.

I only use the shared calendar feature because it has the best and most extensive reminders feature of all the shared virtual office suites I’ve used (and I’ve used just about ALL the main ones out there). For my needs, I don’t find it stable enough to make use of any of the other features, however, they do have them and perhaps they will work well for you. Check it out!

One caution about using free tools… just because something is free doesn’t make it the right solution. Often things that are free come with strings or are not the most stable or secure. These services I mention in this post are rare exceptions of excellence. If you do use free tools, be sure they have the capabilities to grow with your needs as your business and client roster grows. And remember that bumping up to the next level of features, stability, capacity or security often requires you to move to a paid plan (and rightly and fairly so). Just some things to keep in mind.

Hope that helps!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Interruption of Retained Services?

Dear Danielle:

It came up that a client with whom I’m working on a retainer basis has just alerted me that in a month he will be taking 4 to 5 weeks vacation so he will interrupt the service for that period of time.  We started our relationship in March, so we have been working together for three months now. How do you handle this kind of situation? Is it acceptable that he interrupts the service agreement at no cost for him? One of the clauses in our Service Agreement states that if for any reason one of the parties decides to discontinue the agreement he/I should give notice to the other party at least 30 days in advance. He is almost complying with that. But this clause was meant for the finalization of the agreement, not a temporary interruption. Should I accept this? Or should I let him know that if he interrupts the service, I might not be available when he is back at work, hence I should charge at least a minimum amount to reserve his space in my roster? Thanks in advance!Mirna Bajraj, MB Asistencia Virtual

Hi, Mirna! Great question; I’ll do my best to help. :)

This is another one of those situations where there is no right way or wrong way. It all depends on how you want to run your practice and what is acceptable (or not) for you.

Obviously, we never want to hold a client hostage if they can’t or don’t want to continue working together, whatever the reason. At the same time, and as you recognize, they need to be fair to us as well. This is the reason our contracts contain a termination clause that gives both parties simple, fair and equal recourse for ending the relationship: 30 days written notice.

But this situation differs because the client isn’t saying he wants to permanently end the relationship, he simply wants to interrupt the service. And here begins our thought process.

So, the client goes on vacation and now you have an open slot on your retained client roster. Obviously, you are not going to sit around and wait for him to return. That’s income you now need and want to replace.

This is where a conversation with the client would be in order.

By all means, be gracious about his wishes. However, it would be a service to him to clarify your policies. You may want to remind him of the termination clause of your agreement with each other (i.e., proper fair notice). You might want to let him know that you don’t offer “service interruptions” per se. If a client opts to terminate the contract (per the termination clause), then the contract is ended. You are then, obviously, going to fill that slot on your roster with another client because that’s income you need to replace.

Therefore, the client needs to understand that when they return, you may not have a spot any longer for them. And, if you did have a spot, the whole contract process, etc., would naturally need to start from scratch as if they were a new client. It may also mean that your rates and other particulars may be different when they return as well.

At this point, you may want to let the client know that to keep his spot on your roster, there would need to be a continuance of service and that means continuing to pay their monthly fee.

I like to use the analogy of insurance as an example, and this would be especially apt if you are using my Value-Based Pricing methodology.

When you pay for insurance, you aren’t paying for actual use. You are paying for the event of use. In other words, we may not need to use healthcare services every month, but that doesn’t mean we get to stop paying our insurance premiums for those months we don’t use any services. We don’t pay, our insurance is cancelled, we lose our spot (and possibly our grandfathered plan) and have to start all over again new.

Another thing comes to mind… and it’s hard to tell since this client is so new, but is a vacation really the reason they are wanting to interrupt service? Might there be some other issues going on, that with some conversation, could be solved to mutual benefit?

This is another reason it’s so worthwhile, especially in the beginning stages of our retained client relationships, that we have weekly telephone meetings. It really helps us keep our finger on the pulse of things with the client, their needs and concerns, and allows us to get to know and understand them better.

Hope this helps, Mirna :)  If you have additional thoughts or questions or need further clarification, please feel free to post in the comments. This will help shed more light and help others at the same time as well.

Saying Thank You

One of the things I love about etsy are the clever, inventive ways the vendors come up with in saying thank you. This is obviously something that is cultivated as part of the etsy culture. From beautiful uses of natural materials to creative packaging to (like today) an adorable little bundle of extra beads with “Thank you” attached.

Sure, some may think it’s “just” a thank you, but that stuff is not lost on clients and customers. It’s delightful and memorable and there is obvious effort and style involved, which is what makes it more meaningful.

This kind of effort can make even more of an impact on the clients of services (where our “product” is a service which is basically invisible). I am not a fan of automating “thank you’s.” I detest it, in fact. Because the message is, you are not worth me putting myself out enough to make an effort. And it’s the personal attention and effort that is the secret sauce and makes the meaning.

What clever, creative, inventive ways can you dream up and instititute as part of your brand culture to say “thank you” to your clients for their (continued) business?

Being of Service

What does being of service really mean?

So often, I see Administrative Consultants thinking it means being “instant assistants” and working with clients as if they were employees. They make unrealistic (and ultimately undeliverable) promises of “24 hour” and “on-demand” service.

Being of service—true service—means being able to deliver consistently and dependably at a humanly sustainable pace. Listen, you aren’t going to be of service to anyone running around like a chicken with its head cut off, all stressed out and making mistake after mistake due to being hurried and harried and not giving yourself enough “space” to breathe and think clearly.

That’s exactly where you’ll end up attempting to be an “instant assistant,” bending over backwards trying to impossibly meet every constant demand. That thinking lacks foresight, business sense, and just plain doesn’t work.

What does work is being intentional in your business. What does that mean? It means examining your business, bringing every process, system and action to conscious thought, and making sure each contributes to your ability to deliver long-term, value-rich, purposeful, consistently reliable service.

Why are you doing things the way you do? What are your systems? How do your processes facilitate your workflow? In the big picture, do they allow you to run a dependable, sustainable practice? Do they contribute to your service and consistent dependability to clients? What systems, policies, processes and flows will? What ineffective policies and processes do you need to say “no” to in order to deliver bigger value and superior long-term service?

Being a great service provider doesn’t mean killing yourself. Being a great solo professional service provider means being a conscious business owner and effective (not instant) manager of your client workload.

(originally posted February 24, 2007)

Two Roads

There are two roads you can take: to be a “mill” or to be a boutique. We focus on the latter here.

If you’re looking to create a “mill” of your business, I can’t help you (and don’t want to).

The ACA is about administrative support for clients as an art and personal relationship.

Are You a Proficient Business Owner?

I’m not talking about being masterfully skilled at the thing you are in business to do.

I’m talking about being ALSO masterfully skilled at running a business.

Because you can be as masterfully skilled in administrative support as all get out and still not serve your clients well if you don’t know how to manage and run your business well.

More business, trust and credibility has been lost not because someone couldn’t do the work or didn’t have the skills, but because they failed in other areas of business: customer service, workload management and communication.

Having policies and systems that help you manage and put order to things in your business is smart. Letting clients run your business and dictate certain fundamental management policies is not.

You have to run your business and institute protocols in a way that works for you first so that you can in turn take fabulous care of your clients.

It’s Not About the Hours

Here’s a question posted on a public forum that came to my attention via Google Alerts:

I have a client who just opened a new business. He wants to utilize our support options, but isn’t sure how many hours per month he would need us. He is asking about buying a bank of hours that could be rolled over to the next month if unused. Also, we bill in 15 minute increments and he is concerned that a lot of time would be eaten up with us replying to emails. Has anyone dealt with a situation similar to this?

This is just one of the many issues you encounter when you price your services based on selling hours. You don’t know how long things will take going in and clients worry about their hours being frittered away and what their bill will be afterwards.

Do you see how the focus is all on the time?

Achieving results for clients should be the focus of your work, not watching the clock, having your hands tied behind your back and having to stop in the middle of things because time has run out.

Guess what? When you learn how to utilize value-based billing in your business, hours don’t matter!

No one needs to know upfront how many hours will be needed or used… because the focus is on accomplishing the work and achieving the goals and objectives it is in support of, not the hours.

With value-based pricing, it doesn’t matter how many emails are sent back and forth with clients or how much time is spent reading them… because they aren’t paying for time and you aren’t selling hours.

EVERYTHING from your conversations with clients, to your work, to your administration is soooo much simpler and more streamlined when you utilize the value-based pricing methodology.

And clients are more attracted to this way of billing and working together. When you utilize value-based pricing, it’s much easier for them to say “yes” to working with you!

This is what I’m teaching this month in my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging class on June 27 & 28: How to Price & Package Your Retained Support Based on Value and Expertise—NOT Selling Hours!

I’m going to show you with step-by-step instruction how to price and create value-based packages custom-built for each client’s unique needs that make working together a breeze (not to mention help you earn better)!

The Early Bird discount is over, but you can still get in on some savings. Register by June 9 and pay the special rate of $147 (a savings of $50).

Click here to register and get more details >>

I’d love to see you there!

Dear Danielle: This Client Just Won’t Change

Dear Danielle:

I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how to work with clients who are resistant to the changes you want to implement. I have a great client (also my biggest client) who seems to want to stay on an hourly model where I feel like an employee (which we all know is not the ideal arrangement). I keep trying to implement systems to make billing more efficient so I don’t have to hunt down piecemeal information from him on a constant basis just to generate some client invoices for him. He just will not do it. Aside from that, we have a really great rapport so even though he’s getting to the stage where he will need to hire an in-office assistant, I’d like to keep our relationship for the bigger items that help him run his business efficiently. I just can’t seem to find a way to get him to see my point. —KI

Omigosh, I can so relate to your question. I’ve had clients like this myself. I think we all have at one time or another. The signs aren’t always obvious, no matter how well we conduct our consultations. Sometimes, it just takes working together a bit before this kind of issue becomes more clear.

This is an issue that really boils down to growth, fit and working with ideal/unideal clients.

If you will indulge me for moment, I’d like to muse just a bit.

When we’re new in business, we often take on any clients we can get.

As we grow in our business, we begin to learn and become more clear and conscious about what we like and what we don’t like, as well as who we like to work with (and work best with) and who is… uh… more challenging, shall we say, lol.

As a result, the clients we take on later in our business look very different from the clients we had back when we were just starting out.

Sometimes those early “starter” clients stay and grow right along with us through the years. This is always awesome!

And then there are some clients we outgrow for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s because we brought them on with unsustainable practices and expectations and as we improve upon our operations, policies, standards, boundaries and raise our rates to be in more alignment with our value and financial needs, those clients balk, resist and leave.

That’s perfectly fine. I like to call those “practice clients” and they really did help you learn more about yourself and your business and to grow. So bless them and let them be on their way (or, ahem, be proactive and politely show them the door) because when you hang on to clients who no longer fit, they take up double, even triple, the space and prevent your more ideal clients from coming into your life.

This client is sounding like someone who is no longer a fit, no longer ideal for you. I have had clients like this myself. They say they want and need the help and are open to your ideas, but then never want to implement any of them or refuse to make any necessary changes. This, of course, makes things more difficult and time-consuming (not to mention, frustrating!) when they abjectively refuse to use better or even proper technology tools or make shifts in how they do things.

As a consequence, they also just never seem to grow or evolve. It’s extremely difficult to be or stay energized with clients like that. They just keep doing the same old things and getting the same old results.

If you continue working with that kind of client, it really just becomes an exercise in treading water, going through the motions. You lose all motivation for looking out for improvements or contributing ideas for their business because they have shown that they just aren’t interested. Why should you keep wasting your time and energy, right? It’s de-energizing and demoralizing and you get no joy or satisfaction when you are deprived of being able to contribute in these ways.

It’s always a delicate dance we have with clients. We want to care and help our clients do amazing things or make amazing strides. We’re just wired like this. But you can’t care more about their business than they do themselves. We can offer ideas and make suggestions, but ultimately, it’s the client’s business, not ours, and they are the ones who get to decide what they want to do and what they don’t. If someone is just not interested in changing how they do things, there isn’t anything you can do to change their mind. And it’s just not worth the aggravation trying, trust me.

And, to be clear, these aren’t awful people. Like you say, you two have a great rapport. It’s entirely possible to have a client with a great personality and with whom you get along great, beyond their stubborn inability to make improvements or do anything differently. I’ve had clients like that as well. What we didn’t have was a business relationship that energized me and made it a joy to work with them. It’s not all about the money, as we all know.

This is why it’s always a good idea to choose clients carefully through our consultation process and to let clients go if/when they are no longer a fit.

So, you have to let go of the idea that you are going to change this client. It just isn’t going to happen. And you need to decide if you are okay with that and working in your current “comfortably numb” going-through-the-motions kind of way. If it wasn’t bugging you, though, my guess is you wouldn’t be writing this question to me. My guess is you also need or are afraid of losing the income, which is why you haven’t nicely let this client go yet.

It’s all well and good to tell people to let go of clients who are no longer a fit. And that’s absolutely my best advice. But I know that it’s easier said than done. You have bills to pay and mouths to feed, after all. I get that. So here’s a practical way to grow toward that conclusion if that’s the direction you want to take.

  1. Continue to formally document and get conscious about your standards, policies, boundaries and ideal/unideal clients. Put those things in writing. Keep honing and adding to them (this will be ongoing throughout the entire life of your business). AND be sure to INFORM clients what those rules, boundaries, policies and procedures are. This is where your New Client Welcome Guide comes in.
  2. As you grow, you can implement those new standards and policies incrementally. Send out a blanket email to all your clients, informing clients as soon a possible about any change. People do much better with change when they are kept informed. But do not overly explain or have belabored personal conversations with each individual client. Simply inform and let them know you look forward to continuing to work and grow together. The choice is theirs beyond that. When you take out the invitation to conversation, clients actually react better to these changes and accept them as a matter of course. It’s when we think we need to overly explain things that they (perhaps unconsciously) get the idea that your changes are open for debate.
  3. Whenever you up your game, elevate standards and make changes, expect that you will lose some clients. You will never grow if you stay stuck doing things or working with people who don’t energize you. What may surprise you is that many of your clients will congratulate you and wonder why you hadn’t done this sooner. ;)
  4. When it comes to things like pricing, give clients plenty of notice (30 to 60 days days minimum). This gives you time to gauge which clients might be considering leaving, and put additional effort in bringing on new clients to replace any outgoing ones. And, of course, bring on all new clients at your new fee levels, standards and policies.
  5. Fear-based decision making is never a good idea or good advice. But that doesn’t make it any less of a reality. So in a worst case scenario, when you absolutely can’t risk losing the income and you have the room, there is always the option to maintain the status quo with current clients and instead put all your focus and energy into bringing on new, ideal clients at your new standards and rates. This will put you in more of a position of financial choice. Then, for each new client you bring on, let go of an unideal client. Do this one by one until you have replaced your roster with more ideal, better-fitting clients.
  6. I also suggest you purchase my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit. In the videos and the workbook, I show you how to talk about value-based fees and what to point out to clients so they see and understand the benefits to them of working this way.

And moving forward:

  • Stop calling yourself an assistant. Another of the benefits I’ve found since using the term Administrative Consultant is that there’s more of an immediate respect, openness and even an expectation for my ideas and directions. As a consultant, people inherently understand that you have expertise and therefore expect that your suggestions are valuable contributions to make their business better. It’s a completely different framing and context they have as opposed to how they view you when you call yourself an assistant. And as a business owner, you aren’t an assistant anyway. ;)
  • Along with being a business owner and not an assistant, understand that there are some things in your business that you get to tell clients. You can’t be in business to use old, ineffective, archaic methods and technology or do things in the most difficult, time-consuming, inefficient and complicated ways. That’s counter-productive to your business and the other clients you serve. So remember, that you always get to inform clients that, no, that’s not how you do things in your business or for clients. There are going to be some tools or ways of doing things that aren’t negotiable, that you get to direct. For example, does a client get to walk into a print shop and tell them what tools they are to use, how to do the work or what information they will supply? Of course not. Every business, including yours, has ways of doing things, has certain information they need from clients, certain current methods, systems and technology they use to be most productive, efficient and effective and so they can do their best work and achieve the best results. You can’t start working in the dark ages just because one client can’t adapt. Clients can either get on-board with progress or find someone else. ;)

Remember, too, that your growth in business is always a good thing for clients because ultimately it helps you help them better. And your positive growth in your standards, policies, systemization, etc., is actually a model and encouragement for those clients who are stuck themselves in their businesses.